She denounced corruption and abuse of power. She relentlessly reported on murders, kidnappings and torture in Chechnya. She was tough on Kremlin politics. She never shied away from personal risks. She was incorruptible, investigative, courageous.
Anna Politkovskaya unsettled and disturbed people. Through her reporting, she made friends and gained respect and recognition, but she also made bitter enemies. She's become a role model for all those who see journalism as having moral, democratic and educational qualities. She became an enemy figure for all the people she criticized.
Anna Politkovskaya was murdered a year ago on Oct. 7 and became a victim of her profession and her moral-political self-image. No one knows to this day who was behind the murder, who commissioned it, and who fired the fatal shots in the end.
Only few in Putin's empire were courageous enough to support the journalist during her lifetime. Only few really showed any interest in her work. Too few. Soon after the murder, the Russian president -- during a visit to Germany, by the way -- said that Politkovskaya was an insignificant person without any influence. Still, she had obviously become a thorn in the side of official Russia.
Even if no one can prove an immediate complicity of the political leadership and especially Vladimir Putin himself -- the murder of the incorruptible Anna Politkovskaya was only possible in an atmosphere of utter contempt for democratic principles, for fairness and open societal debates.
A critical journalist must prove prickly in an environment where democracy has degenerated into a superficial spectacle, where free media, parties and institutions are nothing but set design for the scheming of secret services and the intrigues of insular, elite circles. On top of it all, her political enemies were additionally angered by the fact that her international reputation kept prompting the West to criticize Russia.
That's why today, one year later, the murder of the upright journalist still has a huge symbolic power. It was an attack on basic democratic rights. It was probably a decisive slap in the face of already curtailed freedoms of press and opinion. It unveiled Russia's ugly side.
The fact that there's still no real breakthrough in the investigation, but rather a hopeless mess of extenuations, spectacular arrests, judicial mistakes and dropped indictments shows only one thing: Russia still has to prove that it is a democracy with an independent judiciary.
Cornelia Rabitz heads DW-RADIO's Russian service (win).